Congress and the coming lame duck session
If you want to know why we get stuck with bad law, the conduct of the 111th Congress might provide the perfect case study on the subject. On the surface you’d think, with Democratic majorities in both chambers and a Democratic president, that it would work like a well-oiled machine.
But that’s not been the case. While Democrats have consistently tried to blame the problems of Congress on Republicans, most Americans understand that the GOP comes in for only a small part of the blame. Most of the problems with its lack of accomplishment fall directly in the lap of Democratic infighting and disagreement.
Even when Democrats had filibuster proof margins in both chambers, they only passed a portion of their agenda. Part of it is because they spent so much time and political capital on the health care reform abomination. That sort of sucked the air out of everything else. And, the election of Scott Brown to the Senate finally put Democrats there in a position that required they finally consider the opposition when crafting their legislation – a distasteful but necessary added requirement (they’d much rather fight among themselves and blame the Republicans who had absolutely no power to stop anything prior to Brown’s election).
After wasting most of two years, the Democratic leadership is faced with two realities – the probability that they’ll lose their House majority in the upcoming elections (as well as some seats in the Senate) and only a lame duck session remaining to pass legislation they deem critical to their agenda. That leaves them with about 6 weeks to jam pending legislation through the Congressional process (at the end of the session, any legislation not acted upon is in effect “killed” and must be introduced again in the next Congress). In the Senate that means these Democratic priorities:
Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) wants the Senate to consider a package of tax-relief extensions he has been working on all year.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is intent on passing a renewable electricity standard.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, says his cybersecurity bill should also come up for a vote, while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has called for ratification of the New START arms-control treaty with Russia.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) says he intends to hold Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to a promise to schedule a vote on legislation that would bar the Environmental Protection Agency from taking action to curb carbon gas emissions for two years.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Conference, told reporters Friday that leaders would also bring up a bill to address Chinese currency manipulation.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, hopes Congress will pass food-safety legislation Reid tried to bring to the floor last week. Democratic leaders pulled the bill even though they could have had enough votes to stop a Republican filibuster.
And, of course there’s the Defense Appropriations bill to which Reid has added the contentious DREAM act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, assuring quick passage won’t happen. None of the legislation listed is “minor”. All deserve extensive review and debate. Neither of those things will happen as the Senate leadership tries every parliamentary trick in the book to limit both and push the legislation through before the end of the lame duck session. The House is no better and actually would add to the legislative backlog in the Senate if it does manage to pass its education bill.
Also remember that this Congress, for the first time in anyone’s memory, will not be passing a budget, but has punted that responsibility (or shirked it if you prefer) to the next Congress. They have cobbled together and passed a CR (continuing resolution) which will keep government functioning and spending that 7 million dollars a minute it has become so used to spending.
This Congress has been, in my estimation, one of the worst in history. Not because they didn’t pass megatons of legislation – I’m actually fine with fewer laws and less intrusion. Instead its about what they did pass and how they passed it. Additionally its about what they didn’t do (they’re responsible to present a budget but didn’t because of political consideration – that’s shirking your duty where I come from) and what they’re about to do (try to cram mountains of legislation through in a 6 week funnel which will most likely be ill considered, undebated, costly and poor in quality – although if ObamaCare is any indication, not lacking in quantity.
This isn’t how it is supposed to work. It is, however, all the reason you need to change the leadership and majority party. I remember Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi charging that George Bush was “incompetent”. Their leadership of the 111th Congress has redefined the word.
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